By Sahil Patel
We ranked it:
It goes without saying that “branded entertainment,” especially in the form of a multi-part web series, can be very difficult to pull off. The questions that brands and creative-types struggle with whenever working together on a project get amplified when it’s a piece of content that has a lot more investment behind it. Questions like: How much of a presence should a brand have within the series? What are ways to integrate the brand or product cleanly into the story so that viewers are not put off by it? What needs to be done so that the series can satisfy its two primary goals: to entertain as well as ensure that the brand is happy with the way it has been presented?
It also goes without saying that there is no “secret sauce” to this. Ask any brand manager or ad executive, and you’ll hear a lot about respecting the story and the audience, and doing things in “creative ways,” but nothing in the way of concrete, actionable advice. Sometimes the best piece of advice anyone can give about producing great branded entertainment is by pointing to a project that actually does it well — like “The Power Inside,” an ongoing six-part web series from Toshiba and Intel.
First, the story: “The Power Inside” follows a fast-talking/nerdy not-a-hero hero and his even-more-fast-talking coworker/best friend, as well as his barber-turned protector, the girl of his dreams, and her extremely attractive boyfriend, as they try to fight off an alien invasion. The aliens come in the form of mustaches and unibrows, who have decided to take over the world by attaching themselves to the faces of humans (it’s a little surprising that a brand like Gillette did not come up with this first, but I digress). Three of the planned six episodes have aired so far, with the heroes learning about the invasion and beginning to fight back.
To put it simply, the show is well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, and pretty funny. It’s not too surprising, as “The Power Inside” features a pretty strong creative team, from Hollywood directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory”) to a cast headlined by acting legend Harvey Keitel.
The main character, played by Craig Roberts, fits in quite nicely as the unlikely hero. Zack Pearlman is pitch-perfect as his best friend, while Analeigh Tipton and Reid Ewing fill out the main cast as the object of Roberts’ affection and her hipster-inspired, douchey boyfriend, respectively. The main attraction, Mr. Keitel, also seems to be having a great time as Roberts’ barber, who just happens to be one of the chosen protectors against these aliens.
As for the other main attraction, the Intel-powered Ultrabooks from Toshiba, they show up throughout the first three episodes, but never in an obtrusive way. Granted, I was always on the lookout for when the Toshiba or Intel brand would show up, but every time I noticed any Toshiba device, more often than not it simply existed in the scene. There were a couple of times where the characters would use the Ultrabook in a way that showed off its features — Roberts unhooking the screen from the keyboard or a video being streamed from one device to another — but in both cases, the action/feature felt natural. How’s that for a clean integration?
It’s easy to say branded entertainment should first, and foremost, be entertaining. But if it doesn’t accomplish the other goal, of promoting the brand without promoting it, then it’s a wasted project. Lucky for Toshiba and Intel, “The Power Inside” accomplishes the latter quite comfortably. Lucky for viewers, the series is also very entertaining.
Three more episodes of “The Power Inside” are left, with each new one rolling out on Thursdays.